04/20/2018

Which California megaprojects get breaks from complying with environmental law? Sometimes, it depends on the project

Year after year, owners of professional sports teams and developers of proposed skyscrapers have pleaded with California lawmakers to grant relief for their projects from the state’s environmental regulations. They’ve found a largely receptive audience.

“It’s a job creator,” Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) told his colleagues while successfully pressing earlier this month for approval of his bill that could speed up an expansion of Facebook’s headquarters and the construction of twin skyscrapers in Hollywood.

The passage of Santiago’s bill highlighted a continually messy debate at the state Capitol concerning which projects deserve breaks from strictly complying with the California Environmental Quality Act, the primary environmental law governing development. The law, known as CEQA, requires developers to disclose and reduce projects’ effects on the environment, often a time-consuming and costly process made longer by lawsuits that can last years.

Legislators have long talked about overhauling CEQA — Gov. Jerry Brownhas called doing so “the Lord’s work” — but the rare measures that advance often only provide relief for deep-pocketed developers or have the backing of Sacramento’s most powerful interests.

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